Directed by the gloriously named Roar Uthaug, this old-school disaster thriller focuses on an amiable scientist (Kristoffer Joner) who's about to have a very, very bad day. Kristian is his name and he's set to swap the picturesque town of Geiranger for the bright lights of the big city, but you know what they say about best laid plans. The tourist hot spot sits on the edge of a fjord and the threat of a tsunami always hangs in the air. It's the geological equivalent of a ticking time bomb and - just as Kristian and his young family prepare for the move - time runs out.
Ane Dahl Torp
Jonas Hoff Oftebro
As well as having the manliest name in the business Roar Uthaug knows how to make a disaster thriller that will leave you a quivering, nerve-shot mess. That's precisely what the director achieves with The Wave, the understated title not really doing justice to the skyscraper-sized tsunami that devastates a tiny Norwegian town and leaves a desperate man separated from those he loves. Yes there are contrivances and the predictable "what now?" moments but they come with the territory. This is A-grade genre work.
The town in question is the postcard-perfect Geiranger. It sits at the mouth of a fjord surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is home to likeable scientist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner). His current job at the early response centre involves monitoring geological goings-on and pressing a big red panic button if gauges and lights that were once green start flashing red. Of course that's exactly what's going to happen, but first we meet his hotel-worker wife Idun, somewhat angst-ridden teenage son Sondre (Jonas Hoff Oftebro) and moppet daughter Julia (Edith Haagenrud-Sande).
They're about to up sticks and head to the big, bad city as Kristian has landed a high-paying gig at an oil company. He seems less than thrilled at the prospect of swapping his scruffy, everyman look for a suit and tie, so his ball-busting work pals pay little mind when his tsunami sense starts tingling - surely it's just cold feet about the move. Despite increasingly panicked pleas and a demonstration that uses ring binders to represent shifting rock plates, the big red button goes un-pressed until it's too late.
Uthaug might not deviate from the familiar Hollywood playbook but his execution is spot on. Instead of rushing towards the looming catastrophe he delays and delays and delays, impressively holding his nerve until a queasy tension takes hold. By the time mother nature decides to shatter the peace and quiet and unleash the full force of her terrifying powers you know the characters well enough to care about their fate. There are also some lovely little touches, particularly a shot of one of Kristian's co-workers watching a horror movie when he should be paying attention to the bank of monitors behind him. Both he and the pretty young thing on the screen are oblivious to their impending doom.
When disaster does strike its swift and brutal - a rockslide causing a swirling wall of death-black water to rise up and begin its unstoppable advance towards the doomed Geiranger. The use of CGI is wisely conservative, the camera focusing - more often than not - on frantic, panic-stricken faces. The aftermath is even worse than the impact, Uthaug perhaps revelling in the death and destruction a touch too much but conjuring up some truly haunting imagery. The fjord becomes a river of the damned, the town a flaming, hell-like ruin.